The proposal was for an “eco-resort.” Efficient, natural, low impact, low carbon. Attentive to biodiversity, habitat, wetlands, trees. Existing environmental protection zones will be given large setbacks from the electric golf-cart paths. No motorboats. Low everything. Regenerative.
So went the TRAE resort application to rezone 30 acres along the Adolphus Reach from RU1 to Special Tourist-Commercial, which was recommended for approval by the County’s planners.
Alan Hirschfield, the owner of the site, proposed 31 guest cabins, a hotel, a pool, a spa, an assembly hall, a café, and an event venue for weddings. There would be no more than 150 guests at any one time. The model is “regenerative tourism.”
But the neighbours were not buying it, and neither, in the end, was council. In a surprise about-face at a meeting of the Planning Committee last Wednesday, councillors voted 7 to 6 to deny the application.
Unlike another recent tourist resort proposal, for ten small cabins, a small hotel, and pool on East Lake, near Sandbanks, this one is in the middle of nowhere, relatively speaking — it would have been the first real tourist resort in North Marysburgh, on top of the spectacular escarpment that runs along the Adolphus Reach.
It’s not Lake on the Mountain. Definitely not Waupoos. Just a relatively unpeopled stretch of County Road 7 in Cressy.
The proposed development is also very close to Rock Crossroad, site of another, ill-fated eco-resort. IRTH was to be a hotel, 12 cabins, and a large spa complex on 89 acres.
There was just one problem. The site was not just rural, it was environmentally protected, part of the Cressy Core Natural Area.
While the site of the proposed TRAE resort falls just outside the boundary of the Cressy core area, as planner Kelly Graham noted for the proponents, it is continuous with it, and contains the same sensitive natural features, wetlands, escarpment, and wildlife habitat, features the architects promised to preserve and protect.
Its shorelands have also been frozen from development.
In May 2023, Council passed an Interim Control By-Law to restrict new development within areas designated as shoreland, where sensitive natural features exist, for one year. The freeze is to give staff time to develop a policy framework to guide future shorelands development.
Although TRAE’s application predates the approval of the interim bylaw, staff decided it still applies. “Therefore,” reads their report, “the application may only proceed with attachment of a Holding provision,” while the bylaw is in effect.
The proponents disagreed. “We feel that is not appropriate as all development is well away from the environmentally protected sites,” said Ms. Graham.
Major objections from nearby residents, many of whom spoke at the meeting, concerned incompatible land use. “Nobody bought a home here to have a resort next door,” said one. “You are proposing a wedding factory in the middle of a rural area.”
One approval would clear the way for more such approvals, worried another. The environment, shoreline, habitat, noise pollution, and road infrastructure were key concerns.
Brenda Hellyer, resident since 1982, said, “we live in a farming, rural, residential, agricultural zone. We do not live in a commercial zone.”
Bruce McMinn, a resident for 26 years, spoke on behalf of his wife, who grows canola and other cash crops on 126 acres directly across the road from the proposed resort. Their restored 1865 farmhouse is the George Minaker house.
He referred council to the County’s Official Plan, which states new development must reflect the existing density and scale of the surrounding land uses.
“A cornerstone principle of good land use planning is a duty to avoid land use conflict. This principle is undermined by the encroachment and intensification of a new, large-scale non-farm development within an established and sensitive rural community,” he noted in a formal deputation.
Mr. McMinn also cited the Provincial Policy Statement, which states that planners must promote a diversified rural economy while protecting existing agricultural and other resource-related uses.
In short, tourist-commercial intensification of the sort proposed is better suited to areas that are already built up.
“My wife bought this property to be as far away from Sandbanks and Isaiah Tubbs as she possibly could.”
McMinn noted gaps in the staff report that suggested it was premature. Much of the proposed development will be subject to approvals by Quinte Conservation, the Ministry of the Environment, and site plan control applications.
“We have a developer and a municipality relying on contingent future approvals by regulatory authorities outside the jurisdiction of this council. You are being asked to approve something with too many unknowns.”
Under delegated authority provisions put in place by the Ford government last term, once a zoning amendment is approved by council, details of the site plan will be beyond its purview. Former councillor Stewart Bailey, who lives at Lake on the Mountain, worried that once any hotel is approved, “that could become a much bigger hotel. The thing that matters is the approval.”
Mr. McMinn concluded by stressing intergenerational effects. “This will be the most impactful development we’ve seen in North Marysburgh in 25 years.”
Councillors seemed to be swayed, though the decision could be revisited at a future meeting.